69 Backpacking Tips for Travel in Southeast Asia!

Tru Travels Thailand

We asked travellers in our Facebook Group: Before going backpacking to Southeast Asia, what’s the one thing that you wished you’d known? Here are their essential travel tips!  Thank you to all the travellers who contributed to these valuable nuggets of travel wisdom. We hope that it helps newbie travellers to avoid making the same mistakes!

69 Southeast Asia Travel Tips… + Growing!

  1. Go with the flow. Don’t plan too far ahead and don’t look at your phone too much and try to plan every minute detail. Travel is more fun when you don’t know everything ahead of time! (Cassy)
  2. Stop with the research! Turn your phone off and go with the flow. Hang out at hostels with like minded people and your path will organise itself. Honestly there is nothing to traveling SE Asia these days , don’t worry just go and enjoy it. (Paul)
  3. Travelling is tiring! Don’t feel pressured to try to see every single thing in each place and don’t be afraid to take days off and just do nothing. (Laura) 
  4. Talk to strangers. (Bill)
  5. Keep track of your visa end date. I recently had to extend one of mine because I lost track of time, which is very easy to do in Southeast Asia! (Laura) 
  6. Use Booking.com to book hostels. All of the accommodation I booked is cancellable through Booking.com, so I can always change my plans – which I often do! (Lindsey)
  7. Inflatable neck pillows are crucial for overnight buses and long-haul flights. An eye mask and earplugs are also helpful if you’re planning on staying in hostel dorms. (Phil)
  8. Don’t set dates in stone. Once you arrive your plans will change! (Ian)
  9. Never say no. Always do the spontaneous things that you never say yes to back home. And spend the money. I saw too many people say no because they thought it was to expensive. Well, who cares, just go for it because the odds that you’ll be in the same place and time again is zero. (Simon)
  10. Remember to pick up your card from the ATM. This sounds obvious, but it’s a very common mistake amongst travellers in Southeast Asia. Unlike in other countries around the world, when using an ATM machine in Southeast Asia, the cash comes out first, followed by your card. Lots of people are so used to getting their card first, that they forget to pick it up afterwards and lose their cards. Try to use ATM machines that are connected to banks while they’re open. (Ian)
  11. Keep track of your money. Unless money really doesn’t matter at all, I would recommend keeping track of what you’re spending, which can also help to extend your trip in the long run. Personally, seeing how cheap everything was, I definitely went overboard at first, lol.
  12. Use a money tracking app. Trail Wallet is a good app for tracking what you spend on the road. (Gemma) 
  13. Don’t bring a big backpack. 40 litres its enough. (Nuno) 
  14. Only plan a week in advance – if at all! (Kayleigh) 
  15. Slower is better. If you really like a place – stay there. The amount of places you see is not as important as getting the most out of places you love. (Samantha)
  16. Don’t pack any clothes that you really care about. Nice clothes will get ruined and you will want to shed weight as you travel and get rid of unwanted clothes. (Phil)
  17. Learn how to haggle appropriately. It isn’t rude. It’s all part of Southeast Asian culture and it will save you a fortune along the way! (Ian)
  18. Buy a local SIM card in each country you arrive in. Instead of hunting for wifi all the time, SIM cards are cheap and easy to recharge and the coverage (3G/4G) is pretty incredible even in some of the most remote places! (Brad)
  19. Don’t buy your SIM card at airports. Wait until you get to your destination and you will get cheaper SIM/Data deals at local shops. (Andrew)
  20. Register for the GRAB App. Southeast Asia’s equivalent of Uber will be your best friend. (Sean)
  21. Don’t pack too much. You can shop for everything you need in Southeast Asia. (Yogi)
  22. Download MAPS.ME. This handy app allows you to view maps offline wherever you are in the world, which is perfect if you can’t get access to WIFI or 3G and are in the middle of nowhere! (Victoria)
  23. Bring DEET mosquito repellent with you from home. Despite the prevalence of Dengue Fever and Malaria in some places, it can be difficult to buy mosquito and bug repellent that has a high concentration of DEET in many parts of Southeast Asia. Even if you prefer natural repellents, it’s good to have some of the powerful stuff as back up, especially in the rainy season. (Dave)
  24. Packing cubes are amazing! The best way to organise all of your clothes and toiletries in your backpack. I packed all my tops/dresses in one, bottoms in one, underwear & bikinis in another etc. They pack down small and fit in the bag perfect every time! (Gemma)
  25. And/or… ziplock bags! You’ll never know when you’ll need them. They’re perfect for storing leftover snacks, securing gadgets and documents in during boat rides or unexpected heavy rain — and when you hide money in random places (within clothing, socks, or those hidden pouches/bags, they tend to be drenched in sweat with the heat of Southeast Asia. So wrapping it first in small ziplock bags helps. They’re also great for storing items separately such as clean and used socks etc. (Kristin)
  26. Don’t worry too much about the weather. Before I left home I was freaking out about the fact that part of my trip fell into the rainy season. Turns out I loved the huge downpours and cooler temperatures in the afternoons and as long as I planned my day accordingly, I was still able to do everything that I wanted to do. Don’t try to avoid it, just go with the flow… (Donna)
  27. Learn to drive a motorbike. It’s only scary for a day, but it will show you more of Southeast Asia than any travel blog ever could. (Tyler)
  28. If you want to book transport in advance, 12Go.Asia is a handy website for reserving train, bus, boat and flight tickets. (William)
  29. Laundry is cheap, so don’t take too many clothes. You need hardly anything in terms of clothing and laundry is so cheap to do in hostels (about $1 US per kilo). All of your clothes get washed and dried and folded all neatly within the day. It’s better than being at home! (Charlene)
  30. Learn a bit of the local language. I wished that I had learnt more local languages before I left for Asia. I missed out on so many more possible interactions with great people. (Jason)
  31. Buy a filtered water bottle. Save on plastic as you travel and be able to drink from the tap without fear of getting sick! (Conor)
  32. Buy suncream at home before you leave! It is so expensive in Southeast Asia! About three times the price than in the UK. (Katie)
  33. If you forget suncream, look out for body lotion that contains SPF. It is often half the price of normal suncreams in chemists and supermarkets in Southeast Asia! (Chris)
  34. Don’t take a Lonely Planet Guidebook. They are heavy and outdated and old guidebooks are at every hostel to flick through! (Nathan)
  35. Leave space in your backpack. Don’t overpack and leave space in your backpack for buying new things. The markets are amazing, so you’ll want to shop when you get here! (Jess)
  36. Ladies, bring sanitary items with you. If you’re a tampon user, bring enough with you. They’re incredibly tough to find (depending on country/city) and overpriced. (Jess)
  37. Another one for the ladies. Go one step further in making that time of the month much easier, and get a Mooncup. For me, this has been an absolute essential plastic-free item! It’s great for the environment, clean and easy to use. (Lisa)
  38. Watch out for the whitening toiletry products! Deodorant, face wash and even shower gel often contains whitener (bleach) in Asia. Make sure you avoid any of these products! (Tyler)
  39. Pack a kindle. I love the smell of books, but kindles are much lighter to carry and so convenient! (Sarah)
  40. Bring underwear/swimwear. Clothes sizes in Southeast Asia can make the skinniest girls feel fat! Don’t wait until you arrive in Asia to buy a bikini, it is damn near impossible! And bring enough knickers, unless you’re a fan of really tight, polyester, granny style knickers with cartoons on. (Lisa)
  41. If you’re travelling alone, book your first few nights in a dorm room a sociable hostel in Southeast Asia. These places are designed to help travellers to meet each other and you’ll make travel buddies for your onward adventure in no time! If you’re arriving into Thailand, these Bangkok hostels are a good place to start. (Nikki)
  42. Embrace the bum gun! You will never look back. (Stu)
  43. Do not bring too many clothes. You’ll want to have room in your bag to buy things! (Giulio) 
  44. Avoid the North of Thailand and Laos during the burning season. March and April is the worst time to visit the North of Thailand and Laos, especially Chiang Mai, Pai and Luang Prabang. The farmers burn the land to make way for new crops and the pollution hangs in the air. The air quality can be very bad, especially for people with respiratory problems. Avoid! (Lynn)
  45. Respect the local culture of Southeast Asia. Don’t think that all of Southeast Asia is an enormous beach where you can show your belly and your legs everywhere! (Rosa)
  46. Avoid travelling during festive seasons. At Christmas and New Year the prices for accommodation and tours can double or triple! Avoid touristy places during this time. (Lynn)
  47. Buy a poncho. Southeast Asia is prone to downpours. A poncho costs a dollar or two, takes up very little space in your bag and keeps you surprisingly dry! Do as the locals do. (Jane)
  48. One month, one country. If you plan to spend roughly one month in each country, you will be planning your itinerary well! (Gemma) 
  49. Take a small backpack. A 40L backpack is all you need to travel Southeast Asia. You’ll be surprised how much you can fit in and you don’t have to check it in on flights! I swear by my Osprey Farpoint 40L. (Jaimee) 
  50. Get an International Driving License before you travel. In all countries in Southeast Asia you are not legal to ride a motorbike or drive a car without an international driving license. A driving license from your home country is not enough. If you have a crash you are technically driving illegally and your travel insurance will not cover you. It’s a good idea to check with your travel insurance before you hire a bike. (Mark)
  51. Don’t risk it! If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel! (Anthony)
  52. Don’t ignore the proof of onward travel rule! I was not allowed to board my flight from Australia to Cambodia because I didn’t have a flight out of Cambodia within 30 days. Get yourself organised with a cheap flight ticket out of the country to be safe. (Nicole)
  53. Carry toilet paper. Be prepared for that time the bum gun isn’t working and there’s no toilet paper! (Jess)
  54. Cover up. Take lightweight long trousers and long sleeved tops that cover your shoulders for temples and in religious places. (Nicole)
  55. Add a sarong to your packing list! Blanket, pillow, cover-up, headscarf, skirt, sun-towel, washing basket and dress all in one! (Jenny)
  56. Travel alone. Just once in your life, set off on an adventure all by yourself with no plans and no strings attached. (Sharron)
  57. Join some Facebook Groups! (Like the Southeast Asia Backpacker Facebook Group!). Chatting to people before you travel and sharing your itinerary and ideas with others can really help to ease your nerves before you set off on an adventure! (Stephen)
  58. Splurge on a nice room every once and while. And, buy a chocolate croissant! It’s good for your sanity and the sanity of those around you. Trust me you’re not fun to be around when you’re cranky. (Tyler)
  59. Buy Immodium. It can be your best friend – especially on those long bus journeys! (Vicky)
  60. Get lots of passport photos done before you travel. You will need them for many of the visas in Southeast Asia and it will save you time/hassle/money looking for places to get them done in each country! (David)
  61. Take a small padlock. They don’t cost a lot and you can use them to secure your backpack when in transit. Combination padlocks are the best idea, just incase you lose the key! (Jennifer)
  62. Avoid plastic as much as you can while you travel. Bring a reusable straw (a metal one) to avoid using plastic straws in cafés and bring a tote/cotton bag for your groceries and laundry. Say no to plastic bags/straws/bottle in general while you travel and invest in as many plastic saving travel items as you can. (Rosa)
  63. Eat in busy restaurants at the same time of day as the locals do. At lunch and dinner times there will be a high turnover of food and will mean that your food is as fresh as possible! This is especially important at local street food places in India and Sri Lanka. (Tim)
  64. Avoid animal tourism. Don’t ride elephants or go diving/snorkelling where they feed the marine life. (Rosa)
  65. Ladies, invest in a Shewee! This handy advice that allows women to pee standing up looks and feels ridiculous at first, but it’s a total lifesaver for both middle-of-nowhere situations and the joys of Southeast Asia’s toilets! (Taphat)
  66. Stash your money in different places! Having all of the cash you just took out of the ATM in your wallet is risky, especially on travel days. Hiding some in different places (bra, shoes, socks, two wallets etc) really makes a big difference if you’re robbed and/or lose your bag. This tip has helped me a lot several times! (Kerri)
  67. Make sure your vaccines up to date. I know many people are against it, but I travel with three kids so I stick to it! Most vaccines, you will need to get in advance. However, in an emergency, there is a travel clinic on the basement at Changi Airport, Singapore. So convenient. They have all kind vaccination on the go at normal price. (Novi)
  68. Open an account with a mobile bank. I always use my Starling bank card when I am backpacking. This means that I can avoid most bank fees (though unfortunately not ATM fees) and my money goes further! (Sheree)
  69. Eat street food. Don’t be afraid of restauramts that look slightly rough around the edges. Some of the best food and atmosphere can be found in a street-side stall with plastic stools. (Nikki)

Do you have any more travel tips to add to our list? Contact us and we’ll add your tip!

Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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